DeWolf column: Lifelines of support in the era of COVID-19
Marci DeWolf More Content Now
For most people, the coronavirus outbreak has turned lives upside down. In times of crisis, people feel anxious and fearful. With many communities in lockdown, people feel isolated and in need of social connections.
Americans are grappling with the uncertainties of life in a new reality: the dual crises of a severe national public health emergency and widespread job losses.
But those with mental health conditions face unique challenges and feel these conditions more acutely. One in 5 people in America lives with mental illness or substance abuse disorder, according to experts including the National Institute of Mental Health. But only 43% of those overwhelmed by stress and anxiety and 12% of those with substance abuse issues get the treatment they need.
Social isolation can be traumatic for those dealing with addiction or who are dependent on group therapy. That is why the nation’s mental health hotlines and services are so important today.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers educational and support services among its state and community chapters. In South Carolina, for example, NAMI offers monthly support groups statewide, currently operating online through video chats.
“This is where NAMI gives a sense of community and family to help ease the loneliness and tension,” said Bill Lindsey, executive director of NAMI SC. “We are the nation’s voice on mental illness.”
Community mental health centers and the services and quality of care they provide are also trusted resources. These centers are the point of contact for the public and are equipped to support those struggling with the fallout of the coronavirus.
South Carolina’s 16 public mental health centers offer life-saving services throughout the state. Medical staff works daily with law enforcement and schools, and coordinates with hospitals to serve the needs of all citizens. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the centers communicate via phone or tele-health means.
The state’s Community Crisis Response and Intervention program is an emergency mental health service that goes directly to people who need help. South Carolina’s initiative is one of the few in the nation to operate statewide. It is available 24/7 to help those who may be in crisis in all of the state’s 46 counties. Calls to the hotline are routed to a clinician, who talks to the caller and assesses whether it’s an emergency or whether the caller be seen at a local clinic.
“This is mental health EMS without the transport,” said Deborah Blalock, deputy director of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. “We reach people whenever and wherever they are.”
The goals are to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations, avoid jail time and improve access to care. It also can mean freeing up hospital beds for those suffering from symptoms of COVID-19.
“This is a powerful program,” said Allison Farrell, program director. ”We can bring care to people where they happen to be — in a park, a store or at home.”
She noted that callers are experiencing heightened anxiety disorders because of fears over COVID-19 and parents are struggling with job losses and dealing with kids at home.
For those who cannot handle the stress, there is hope.
“There are people who care and will listen,” said Lindsey.
The NAMI motto is: “You are not alone.” To find a local chapter, visit NAMI.org and search for your location.
Other key contacts
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
• Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: mentalhealth.gov; 877-726-4727
• National NAMI Helpline: 800-950-NAMI (6264) or text NAMI to 741741
Marci DeWolf is on the board of directors of the Greenville County, South Carolina, Mental Health Center and formerly served on the Florida State Board of Mental Health Counseling. She is also a travel writer for More Content Now.